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'Friday Night Lights': A little comic relief at halftime

November 6, 2008 |  7:51 am
Fnl_ep_six

As "Friday Night Lights" nears its halfway point -- the completion of Episode 6 will mark, for the purposes of this blog, the halfway point of this 13-episode season -- the tension finally eased back a bit.

If the first five episodes of the third season of "Friday Night Lights' were packed with plot, community politics and working-class realities, this week showed viewers that the drama in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas, is sometimes little more than some freshman hazing, inspirational speeches, drunken silliness and good ol' rock 'n' roll -- the gloriously amateur kind in which teenage love is The End Of The World. But rather than feel mundane, the episode was welcome, painting Dillon as a bit more true, a bit more like the town or city you're probably reading this from -- one that isn't being torn apart day in and day out by debates centered on whether the local high school is spending too much money on athletics.

In a full 22-episode season, "Friday Night Lights" might give us more than one of these. But in this shortened third season, which is airing now on DirecTV and then in early 2009 on NBC, Episode 6 was a breather of sorts. And it was a showcase for Jesse Plemons' Landry Clarke.

For the first time in a season and a half, Landry's implausible relationship with Tyra Collette (Adrianne Palicki), the town's stunner of a vixen, has truly started to pay off. Writers had to have Landry go so far as to commit a self-defense murder to draw the pair together, and (no discredit to the actors) the relationship never truly worked. Tyra may flirt with the straight and narrow, but it's always been obvious it's the recklessly mysterious that truly seduces her.

The athletically impaired Landry may dream of a starting a Led Zeppelin-inspired metal-blues band, but he's downright tame compared to the pill-popping cowboy with a heart of gold, Cash Waller (Zach Roerig). Really, is it possible for someone who goes by the first name "Cash" not to be suspicious? When a woman rode into town claiming that Cash was the father of her child and owed her child support, it may have broken Tyra's heart, but it sounded about right.

He's been too good to be true. And to that end, so was his explanation that the baby couldn't be his due to some faulty math on the part of his former lover.  Maybe he's telling the truth. Tyra deserves the truth, as she's a short, fourth-down conversion away (the rule is, one lame sports metaphor per blog post) from escaping to college and forever being rid of the "get-a-man/have-a-kid" mantra of her mom and sis. But his reasoning was slick, and Tyra gulped it down, soaking up the drama.

Landry, however, is drama free. And he's finally doing what countless high school geeks do when rejected by the boy or girl of their dreams: Start writing songs -- or, at the very least, some bad poetry. It's been a solid five episodes for "Friday Night Lights" this year, with tight scenes involving Brian "Smash" Williams (Gaius Charles) going off to college and Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) taking on the football establishment, but what a downright joy it was to watch a Crucifictorious rehearsal, with Landry driving his bandmates to huff out of the garage because his songs are becoming too much of a downer.

There were plenty of great details in the band break-up: 1) Landry telling the drummer Jimmy that he'd be back tomorrow, despite Jimmy's insistence he wouldn't be. He was back the next day. And 2), Landry pointing out that he came up with the Crucifictorious name, and therefore he gets to keep it.

But the bassist didn't come back the next day. No matter, because Devin did, the cute bassist who's in freshman choir and knows her way around a sludgy, heavy-metal rhythm. An aside: How lucky a dude is Landry? He's perhaps Dillon High's biggest dork and yet dates a girl like Tyra and found a fellow horror-movie-loving geek last season in Jean (Brea Grant), a character who should have been allowed to stick around.

And now, in Devin, he has yet another gift from God, as Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) once dubbed Jean. But Devin is no pushover. In fact, she has the guts to tell Landry that his songs need work but is smart enough to praise him when she does it, wanting to talk "musician to musician." She adds, "They all kind of feel like they’re one song about one girl."

Landry tries to defend them, and he has a point. “Basically the majority of all rock music is about a girl.” But Devin isn't going to let Crucifictorious wallow in weepiness and tells the kid to get over it.

The boys in "Friday Night Lights" talk a good game. Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) is as tough as they come, and his speeches to screwed-up kids take on an epic nature. He's blunt and simple, but that's all it took to knock some sense into Jason Street (Scott Porter), who's counting on the unreliable to flip a house so he can pay for a kid. And no one's going to go talking smack behind the back of Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch), at least not anyone with some sense.

But it's the women who call the shots on "Friday Night Lights." Sure, Buddy Garrity (Brad Leland) has money and the mayor's ear, but even he lives in complete fear of his daughter. And the straight-to-the-point, musically gifted Devin is the toughest, coolest, smartest new character "Friday Night Lights" has introduced this season. If it was a mistake not to keep Jean around (she's now on "Heroes"), then making Devin a regular would instantly right it. The fact that she can play the blues is an added bonus. 

It's the little details: Coach Taylor knows Riggins isn't necessarily a man to be counted upon, so it seemed slightly far-fetched that he would be tapped to make JD McCoy (Jeremy Sumpter) feel welcome in Dillon. But nevertheless, Riggin gave McCoy a heck of a tour, showing the insecure football stud the town's best strip club, best burger and best dive bar. But the best line? That was this: “Lisa lives down this road. You’ll know. You’ll know.”

Paint in the hair: It was a brief detail, and one that was almost missed, but a nice one. The Jason Street storyline, in which he purchased a house to flip with the Riggins boys, is on a disaster path, but it's impossible not to root for him, especially after seeing him sing the children's song "There's a Hole In My Bucket" via a cellphone to his baby. After a near mental collapse, and a self-esteem-boosting speech from the coach, perhaps Street will realize some of his dreams and once again be near the mother of his child. If it works out, he'll be able to thank his coach, who showed up late to be his wife's date to the high school dance with paint in his hair.

--Todd Martens

Photo: Riggins and McCoy. Credit: DirecTV / NBC

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